Molly Ackhurst

‘Self-pity’ is not a weakness in survivors, Stephen Fry. It shows courage.

So. Stephen Fry…The name alone could be loaded with a trigger warning, but oh how some would protest if it were.

To give a brief back story – last week Fry appeared on ‘The Rubin Report’, a self entitled “politically incorrect talk show about big ideas”, to talk about campus free speech, safe spaces and trigger warnings. Unfortunately safe spaces and trigger warnings are controversial, however it was not the choice of topic that sparked the subsequent media storm. The problem was the example Fry used to lament the use of trigger warnings:

““There are many great plays which contain rapes, and the word rape now is even considered a rape,” he said. “If you say: ‘you can’t watch this play, you can’t watch Titus Andronicus, or you can’t read it in a Shakespeare class, or you can’t read Macbeth because it’s got children being killed in it, it might trigger something when you were young that upset you once, because uncle touched you in a nasty place’, well I’m sorry. It’s a great shame and we’re all very sorry that your uncle touched you in that nasty place, you get some of my sympathy, but your self-pity gets none of my sympathy because self-pity is the ugliest emotion in humanity.”

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Now this statement is problematic on several fronts – in fact let’s be honest, it’s problematic on all fronts. First and foremost Fry’s comments are actually off-point and over the top – there are no trigger warnings on the great “Shakespeare classics”. Secondly, who the hell cares if there are?! Sexual violence rips power away from survivors of sexual violence. Implying that those survivors who are brave enough to push for trigger warnings are weak is incredibly insulting and also incorrect. Self-pity, as Fry so eloquently puts it, is not a weakness – it is an act of bravery. It is an act of self-love. It is a survivor of sexual violence having the courage to stand up and say what they need. Thirdly, the use of the term “nasty place” is infantilising and diminishes what sexual violence is. Childhood sexual abuse is not an Uncle touching someone in a “nasty place”, it is a violation of a boundary. It is a person in a position of power touching a child’s vagina, anus, penis or their breasts without consent. It is pain and it is trauma.

The final and arguably more controversial reason that I believe this statement is problematic is because it is misogynistic. Before, I begin; I feel it pertinent to note that I did not originally believe this to be a controversial opinion – and this to me is the nub of the issue here. Having spoken to several friends and family members I have been genuinely surprised about the lack of understanding of the inherent and deep-rooted misogyny in Fry’s comments about survivors of sexual violence. To me. all sexual violence is rooted in misogyny, regardless of the gender of the survivor. This is because sexual violence is rooted in patriarchy and the sexist culture we reside in. Consequently any viewpoint that berates those survivors and supports a society laden in rape-culture and rape-myth acceptance is in and of itself misogynistic. The views are all about a perpetuation of a world that hates women, belittles women and girls, and dislike any and all whom take on some form of feminine gender identity.

Misogyny sounds like a big insult to throw at someone for thoughtless comments, especially as he has now apologised. However I believe it is time that we start taking things seriously – especially because some commentators are finding ways to excuse his comments, saying he simply “phrased it badly.” Misogynistic views, especially when they are propagated by individuals with sway like Fry, are not just phrased badly. They are carefully thought out and they are deeply held. More importantly they are damaging and inflict real harm on all the women and girls, and also men and boys, who experience gender based violence. Let’s stop excusing people’s viewpoint and start calling them what they are – misogynistic pigs.

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